After three relatively straightforward solo albums, the latest project by the former Verve frontman sees him teamed up with a band of serious soul session musicians and the Chicago hip-hop producer No ID (Kanye West, Jay-Z) in pursuit of the "American sound". It's a surprising move for someone so identifiably Brit-rock and while on tracks such as America and Beatitude, the strongest on the album, the solid R&B beats, backed with grandiose choirs and Ashcroft rapping (yes, rapping), may not be what his fans would expect or approve of, it does sort of work. The trouble is, when it goes wrong, it goes really wrong. The beats lose their punch, the songs lose their way and all we're left with are some baffling, dodgy lyrics about life, mankind and the universe. "Ah yeah, the whole damn human race, I wanna put you in my arms and give you a love embrace", he announces on Are You Ready, before going on about "One life, one life, oh! Yeah! Oh yeah! One nation! One nation!", on Let My Soul Rest. Things settle down on Good Loving and Royal Highness (a facsimile of the Velvets' Sweet Jane), which showcase his undeniably great voice, though his foray into falsetto is pretty odd, to say the least. Ashcroft should be given credit for his willingness to experiment, but given his considerable talents and credentials, this just isn't good enough.
So Many Roads: An Anthology 1964-74
(Universal) This lavish, digitally remastered four-disc set covers the breakthrough decade of the British blues patriarch, from the early days and glory years of the Bluesbreakers, the super group/hot house where a young Peter Green, Jack Bruce and Clapton paid their dues - through to his solo output beyond. An immense back catalogue means this is far from comprehensive, but 71 tracks and 40 pages of notes and photos make this a satisfying package. Gruff Rhys Vs Tony Da Gatorra
The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness
(Turnstile) In the year's most random collaboration, the Super Furries man pairs up with a Brazilian protest singer and inventor of a guitar-cum-drum machine for a ramshackle, avant-garde jam in São Paulo. Possibly one for die-hard SFA fans only.